On Friday, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced the completion of President Donald Trump’s planned withdrawal of about 2,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan and 500 troops from Iraq, bringing the troop levels in each country to 2,500 — the lowest levels in nearly two decades.
Miller said, “Today, U.S. force levels in Afghanistan have reached 2,500. Directed by President Trump, and as I announced on November 17, this drawdown brings U.S. forces in the country to their lowest levels since 2001. Today, the United States is closer than ever to ending nearly two decades of war and welcoming in an Afghan-owned, Afghan-led peace process to achieve a political settlement and a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.”
“With a force of 2,500, commanders have what they need to keep America, our people and our interests safe. Working alongside our NATO allies and partners, the United States will continue to execute both our counterterrorism mission and the train, advise and assist mission in support of Afghan Security Forces working to secure peace in their country. Continued fulfillment of these two complementary missions seeks to ensure that Afghanistan is never again used to harbor those who seek to bring harm to the United States of America,” Miller said.
The troop cut comes as part of a U.S. agreement with the Taliban to remove troops from Afghanistan, provided they maintain peace conditions and work towards a peace process with the Afghan government.
“This force reduction is an indication of the United States’ continued support towards the Afghan peace process and our adherence to commitments made in both the U.S.-Taliban agreement and the U.S.-Afghanistan Joint Declaration,” Miller added. “Moving forward, while the Department continues with planning capable of further reducing U.S. troop levels to zero by May of 2021, any such future drawdowns remain conditions-based. All sides must demonstrate their commitment to advancing the peace process. Further, the United States will continue to take any action necessary to ensure protection of our homeland, our citizens and our interests.”
Addressing the troop cut in Iraq, Miller said, “Today, the United States has reduced the force levels in Iraq to 2,500 as directed by President Trump, and as I announced on November 17, 2020. The drawdown of U.S. force levels in Iraq is reflective of the increased capabilities of the Iraqi Security Forces. We have long anticipated that the force level required to support Iraq’s fight against ISIS would decrease as Iraq’s capability to manage the threat from ISIS improves. Our ability to reduce force levels is evidence of real progress.”
Miller said most security operations in Iraq are already being handled by Iraqi partner forces and U.S. and coalition forces can continue to provide support for Iraqi partner forces at a reduced level.
The completed troop cut meets the timeline set out by Miller in November, when he announced the withdrawal plan.
The Afghanistan troop cut comes despite a provision in the 2021 defense budget, which limits the president’s ability to reduce U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan below 4,000. The provision bars the use of military funds to support troop cuts below that level without the Pentagon first providing an assessment of the security risks a troop cut could raise.
The provision was included in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, which Trump vetoed. Congress overrided Trump’s veto and the law went into effect on Jan. 1 of the new year.
This week, a congressional aide speaking with Reuters on condition of anonymity, said, “If they are continuing the drawdown, that would be a violation of the law.”
In a statement to American Military News, Pentagon spokesman and U.S. Army Major Rob Lodewick said on Thursday, “The Department of Defense is evaluating the FY21 National Defense Authorization Act’s impacts on ongoing force level drawdowns in Afghanistan and will fulfill regulatory provisions set forth in section 1215. Currently, no new orders have been issued which impact the progression of the conditions-based drawdown expected to reach 2,500 by Jan. 15, 2021.”
Lodewick said about 4,000 U.S. troops were still in Afghanistan as of Jan. 1, meaning the majority of the troop cut still had not occured at the time the NDAA went into effect.